Restoration Calls: “I’m more scared of being underemployed than unemployed.”

I graduate college three weeks from today. Honestly, student loans are not even close to on my mind. I’m two grand in debt. I’m lucky.

I double majored in Anthropology and Literature, and I would do it again. In Literature I practiced writing, critical thought, articulating criticism, applying historical and cultural factors to the production of meaning; I engaged with theory focusing on the reader of the text, rather than the author, and applied that in a senior thesis on Young Adult literature. In Anthro I got the opportunity to form a completely new world view based on cultural relativism and the ethics of studying people. I learned to face internalized racism, classism and sexism. I learned that people are a lot more than individuals.

And those are just my majors: I also engaged with translation work, diaspora studies, ornithology, philosophy, and pedagogy; I was a peer advisor and a TA; I’ve worked as a museum educator, a summer camp director, an office assistant and a retail sales clerk; I’m part of my campus feminist collective, my campus Occupy affinity group, NYSR (New York Students Rising), and I register voters in the city twice a month.

I did a lot these past four years.

It makes me so angry when my picture is in a news article for a demonstration with NYSR or Occupy, and these middle-aged privileged white guys in Westchester County comment on the story, calling us navel-gazers, telling us to go study, talking about how useless our majors are.

But here comes the critical thinking: how are you measuring useful? Am I going to have a job in August when I move to the city? Likely not. Maybe my immeasurable luck at having a resume with Real Jobs on it will help me pull through. But honestly, my chances wouldn’t be much better if I’d majored in engineering or international relations or business, so what’s the point in beating myself up for choosing to pursue majors that taught me how to think? Maybe it’s the imminent poverty talking, and call me an idealist (please!), but I think my education was a success if I’m more scared of being underemployed than unemployed. I did a lot these past four years. If I don’t get to use it I’ll be heartbroken. I hate being wasteful.

I am adaptable, well-spoken, and critical. I will never make hundreds of thousands at a multi-million dollar firm because I’m critical of what those firms do to our economy and cultural fabric. I spent four years coming to the conclusion that this country is fucked and I have the skills and passion and drive to help fix it. And I learned those skills in Anthropology and Literature classes at SUNY Purchase College. I learned that drive with the fantastic student activists I’ve met through NYSR and Occupy. I learned that passion in an environment where I was encouraged to do what I feel I need to do to give back to this broken and beautiful society.

I saw a news article that said, “the class of 2012 is in for a rude awakening: 1 in 2 will be unemployed or underemployed.” Don’t be so cocky: we know exactly what we’re getting into, and we know it’s not our fault. But we’re going to fix it for you. Don’t worry.

What’s your story? Are you one of the college graduates that have hung up the mortar board to enter the real world? Are you years out of college but still wondering how you’ll make your loan payments? Or is college off the table, never been an option? How are you chasing your version of the American Dream? Tell us and we’ll publish it here.

These PowerPoints were too hot for TED:

Amazon investor Nick Hanauer gave a TED talk on income inequality and how the wealthy don’t create jobs. You’ll never see the video on Why did TED deem Hanauer’s speech as too controversial?

It is astounding how significantly one idea can shape a society and its policies.  Consider this one.

If taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down.  

This idea is an article of faith for republicans and seldom challenged by democrats and has shaped much of today’s economic landscape.

But sometimes the ideas that we know to be true are dead wrong. For thousands of years people were sure that earth was at the center of the universe.  It’s not, and an astronomer who still believed that it was, would do some lousy astronomy.  

In the same way, a policy maker who believed that the rich and businesses are “job creators” and therefore should not be taxed, would make equally bad policy.  

I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs would have evaporated.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a “circle of life” like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me. 

Read the full speech that TED said was too controversial to show. View the presentation.

What do you think? Is there a problem with income inequality? Do the wealthy create jobs? Should taxes increase for the wealthy? Submit your story, ideas, questions here.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a “circle of life” like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.

So when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it’s a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.

Restoration Calls: The Last Time I was in my Mother’s House

I’m writing this post for my family as much as myself.

I grew up in a fading industrial town in southern Ohio surrounded by paper and steel mills. I watched my single mom claw her way up from poverty-level wages and 2 AM calls in her entry-level job at the dawn of modern computing. I still remember standing in my pajamas amidst the weird hum of mainframe computers as she worked whatever magic she had to work in the middle of those long nights. 20 years later, she would become a project manager making 80k a year.

I saw that struggle and learned what it meant to work hard. I also learned, at least as much as I could as a young man, what it must be to be a woman, a single mom, in present-day America.

Then I saw her lose it all.  A layoff. A foreclosure. An abusive second husband. A son (my brother) with severe addiction problems made worse by years of frustration in our below-average, one-size-fits-all school district.

I had worked through college, first community, then four year state school, after which I promptly put my liberal arts degree to use working retail and paying $150 a month for rent in our near-abandoned steel town. Just down the road, a flame from the plant burned day and night and sometimes when it rained it looked like Coca-Cola. Friends worked 14-hour shifts to churn out the raw material for automobiles no one in town was buying.

I had settled into this low place. Keep my head down, watch the town I lived in bleed out, and try not to think about the trials of my mother and my brother. I didn’t realize it, but I had given up.

One of the last times I was in the house where I grew up, before the foreclosure, I fought my stepfather. It was over something stupid that grew into something serious. He was drunk, things were thrown, skin was separated, and we both ended up  in police cruisers. I slept through my shower in the municipal jail the next morning and went before the judge still bloody from the night before.

At that point, I knew I had to do something new. I joined Americorps, working two wonderful years in urban schools and doing service projects in some of Cincinnati’s most interesting and underestimated neighborhoods. I met champions doing so much more than I had done with so much less than I had.

Telling stories has always been a passion of mine. After my service, I realized I would like the privilege of telling the stories of these champions— the stories of people who, despite being put down by economics or geography or gender or skin color, continue to push on and strive for the America that has always been promised but never quite delivered.

People like my mother.

So here I am, privileged to be studying journalism in graduate school. Is it a crap shoot? Hell yes. I need no reminders how hard it is to get a job in the field. Is it a calling? Hell yes. I can’t imagine doing anything else. People need to hear about and talk about the heroic efforts of everyday folks. Because at this point, the deeds of these folks are the only thing about this country I have faith in.

What’s your story? Submit your story and we’ll publish it here.

Restoration Calls: “Give me the time and means, and I swear I’ll figure it out.”

When I was in middle school and in my earlier years of high school, I saw college and the rest of my future as an amazing and exciting journey of learning and and the attempt to satisfy my greatest curiosities. But as I began college, I knew better. College is about paying more money than your family has to compete against your peers for who can do better on exams. It’s about maybe majoring in something you’re not completely interested in, just because it’s more likely to get you a job. As a child of refugees and immigrants who never went to college, my siblings and I have a lot of pressure to ‘make it’ in America. Being the youngest child, my parents put me through private school for seven years, hoping that one day I’ll make enough money to pay them back ten times over by becoming a lawyer, doctor, businesswoman, whatever. As long as I can make a lot of money to support both myself and my parents, I’ll make them happy.

But what if I don’t know what I want to do the rest of my life? What if I’ll be in so much debt, I’ll have to ask them for help. With constantly rising tuition rates at UCLA, I’m not even sure how I’ll pay for school next year. Because my parents, and our society for that matter, expect so much from me, I had to tack on an Economics major, in addition to my pursuit of an International Development Studies degree. Major in something practical, my family said. What do you want to do with an International Development Studies major, people ask. I don’t know, but will you give me time to figure it out, instead of pressuring me to know what the rest of my life will look like.  Can I go back to the idea of, “You can be anything you want, honey.”  Oh, how much I would love to return to that innocence in middle school when I could just enjoy learning, without the constant nagging of, “What will you do?”

Give me the time and means, and I swear I’ll figure it out. Eventually. 

What’s your story? How have your dreams changed since the recession? Submit your story and we’ll publish it here.